The Winter Commencement Ceremony for approximately 300 graduates of Missouri Western State University will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 13 in the arena of the M.O. Looney Complex. Karen Graves of St. Joseph will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Dr. Brenda Blessing, professor and chair of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, will be the commencement speaker. The MWSU Alumni Association will host a free reception for graduates and their families after the ceremony in the Looney small gym.

The ceremony is free and open to the public. For those unable to attend, the ceremony will be streamed live online at

Karen Graves has been an active member of the community since moving to St. Joseph in 1991. That first year, she was taking a class on local history at Missouri Western when she realized that St. Joseph would be celebrating its 150th anniversary in 1993. To help commemorate the sesquicentennial, Graves helped organize the first Trails West! Arts Festival, which has been held annually at Civic Center Park in downtown St. Joseph since then.

In addition to founding Trails West!, Graves has led numerous community boards and organizations. She was president of the Neighborhood Partnership, a revitalization project which culminated in St. Joseph’s designation as an “All American City” in 1997. She has also served as president of the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, the Allied Arts Council and the Downtown Partnership; co-chair of the St. Joseph Millenium Commission; and a member of the Missouri Tourism Commission, among many others.

Graves has also been an active volunteer at Missouri Western, co-founding the Missouri Western Arts Society and serving on the MWSU Foundation Board of Directors, the Outdoor Campus Committee, the search committee for the Founding Dean of the School of Fine Arts, two capital campaign advisory committees, and presenting at the Eggs & Issues speaker series.

Prior to coming to St. Joseph, Graves was the first woman elected to serve as mayor of Salina, Kan. Among many other positions, she was president of the Kansas League of Municipalities, a board member of the National League of Cities, and a delegate to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Dr. Brenda Blessing has been on the faculty at Missouri Western since 1987. She has chaired the HPER department since 1994, and has twice served as interim Dean of Professional Studies. Dr. Blessing has been Missouri Western’s faculty athletic representative since 2000 and served a two-year term as president of the university’s athletic conference, the MIAA. She is a member of Missouri Western’s Faculty Senate and served five terms as the Senate’s president. Dr. Blessing received her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Indiana State University and her Ph.D. from Ohio State University.

Missouri Western State University is a comprehensive regional university providing a blend of traditional liberal arts and professional degree programs. The university offers student-centered, high quality instruction that focuses on experience-based learning, community service, and state-of-the-art technology. Missouri Western is located in St. Joseph, Mo., and is committed to the educational, economic, cultural and social development of the region it serves. Visit